Two stories on one page of the Philadelphia Inquirer led me to question my sanity.
Wait — actually the sanity of America, because these two stories simply could not have existed through most of the long span of my life.
In one, the Perkiomen Valley school board is struggling to come up with a bathroom policy. The only bathroom policy I faced during decades in school was whether students could get away with smoking cigarettes in there.
Now, schools across America wrestle with how to handle the
almost none transgender students. I will return to that topic in a moment.
The other story concerns an activist, and perhaps leader, in the queer/Muslim/person of color community. That is Raquel Saraswati, who is accused of passing herself off as something she is not — a person of color. Not is she the first person to be accused of doing so. Rachel Dolezal, who was a white person who managed to get herself elected president of the Spokane, Wash., local NAACP chapter at least partly on her false claim of being Black.
Through much of my life, the usual thing was for Black people to try and pass for white, because of discrimination against Black people.
Dolezal also claimed Native American heritage, as did Sen. Elizabeth (Pocahontas) Warren, who made some ridiculous comment about high cheekbones.
Over the Affirmative Action years, which now may be drawing to a close, I know many whites tried to inject some color into their resumes, as other students tried to claim scholarships set aside for certain affinity groups, such as children of military, members of the Knights of Columbus, even left-handed students.
Now, especially since the George Floyd riots, there is even a certain cachet to being Black, as you can see in the remarkable number of TV commercials that feature Black actors. That is not a complaint, it is an observation, as is the large number of interracial families depicted in TV commercials.
I used to be a TV critic, and learned that TV does two distinct things — mostly it reflects society, but when not reflecting, it is leading society. It is able to do that because it is the only medium that reaches all of America — more than newspapers, more than radio, more than recording and film, more even than the internet.
It is a powerful voice with a powerful message, even when the message is not conscious.
TV commercials normalize what we see on the screen. So for most of its lifespan all we saw were white actors in commercials — and in shows — that was normal. Now, by their inclusion, Black actors (even Black networks) are normal, and that is another marker of how much things have changed in America.
For the good.
Let’s go back to the schools.
I met, and wrote about, transexual women in two columns in 2016, and the stats at that time reported nonbinary trans people represented about 0.7% of the population. That is 7/10ths of 1%.
Now, you can’t throw a hat without hitting one.
The first trans person to get media attention was Christine Jorgensen, an American male G.I. who went to Denmark for a sex-change operation in 1952, and became a sensation.
It was a sensation, but an aberration, a one-off, everyone thought.
Everything was quiet on that front for two decades, until 1976 when Renee Richards, formerly a male Opthamologist, tried to compete in the U.S. Open as a female.
OK, that’s two — but that’s it!
Until — oops, Bruce Jenner emerged from the
closet cocoon in 2015 as Caitlyn Jenner. That knocked down any remaining restraints and being nonbinary became as popular as pumpkin spice flavor in the fall.
Now, there is a reported explosion of nonbinary membership among Gen Z. Is it biology, psychology, or pressure from teachers and peers? I don’t know, I reported in a column.
It doesn’t matter if the students are actually nonbinary, or just believe they are, the issue gets dumped on the schools, and the renaming or rehabbing of bathrooms.
This won’t be resolved for a long time.
In a related story, one can ask that if you can change your gender because of how you feel, why not be able to change your race?
That is part of the explanation offered by Saraswati, who
was the former “chief equity, inclusion and culture officer” of the American Friends Service Committee. A couple of AFSC colleagues dug into Saraswati’s past, found she is of German and Italian heritage, she had changed birth name to Saraswati to seem more. . . whatever, and Saraswati’s own mother said, “I’m as white as the driven snow and so is she.”
In a news release, Saraswati said, “We are each the experts on our own lives. Anonymous, troubled, or unscrupulous individuals are not. . . Sadly, this extends to some biological and non-biological family members, including my own mother.”
She produced some testimony from her dermatologist to the effect that she had a darker skin tone, which geneticists said was questionable as an indicator of race.
She said she had taken DNA tests by three leading companies but would not name them. A clear red flag. She said she “was raised in the false and inconsistent narratives regarding my biology and [I] had to find that truth on my own.”
In a key passage in the handout, she said it was her “God-given right to pursue, embrace, and celebrate the truth of my personhood.”
In other words, eff the DNA, I am the one who decides who l am.
There’s a slight difference between the two stories.
We are free to reject the racial claims, but are supposed to genuflect to the gender ones.
And so, I question our sanity.